Hoping to prevent a repeat of last summer when thousands of Haitians illegally crossed the border from the U.S. to Canada to avoid President Donald Trump’s tough immigration policies, the Canadian government is ramping up efforts to stop the potential influx.
This time, the focus isn’t solely on U.S.-based Haitians who will lose their temporary protection from deportation on July 22, 2019, but also on more than 200,000 immigrants from Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador who are facing similar deadlines to leave the U.S.
All have been told to prepare to return to their home countries by the Trump administration, which last year began phasing out the special humanitarian protection known as Temporary Protected Status or TPS. Established in 1990, the program provides temporary protection to immigrants fleeing perilous conditions caused by armed conflict and natural disasters.
“Some people believe there is a TPS program in Canada. That doesn’t exist,” said Randy Boissonnault, a liberal member of Canada's parliament who visited Miami last week to meet with Haitian and Hispanic community leaders to issue a warning to would-be asylum seekers.
“The reality is, if you cross the border and you are not successful with an asylum application, you go back to your country of origin. You might not have been there for 20 years. You also cannot come back to the United States,” he said.
Boissonnault's visit last week came as Trump headed to Montreal for the G-7 summit also attended by Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. It was Boissonnault's second trip to South Florida in seven months to dissuade immigrants from believing social media postings and rumors that promote Canada as a safe haven for TPS holders and undocumented migrants.
Since Boissonnault's first Florida trip in November, the Trump administration has announced an end date for TPS for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras. The administration had previously announced the end of TPS for immigrants from Sudan and Nicaragua. It has also increased arrests of undocumented migrants trying to cross the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The latter has resulted in the separation of hundreds of children from their parents.
“We understand that people are going to be making decisions about their future, and we want them to have the right information,” Boissonnault said. “There are legal ways they can come to Canada."
Encouraging would-be migrants to check out the Canadian government's website, immigration.gc.ca, Boissonnault said Canada has increased the number of legal immigrants it will accept from 260,000 in 2015 to 340,000 by 2020. The country also has increased resources, including funding and staffing, to deal with a wave of migrants, based on lessons learned last year when 23,578 asylum seekers illegally crossed into Canada.
While Haitians accounted for the largest group — 7,164 Haitians sought asylum in Canada between February 2017 and March of this year — Canada also saw a large influx of Nigerians in the same time period.
The arrival of 6,633 Nigerians, many of them with valid U.S. visas, forced the Canadian government to dispatch three immigration officers, followed by federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, to Nigeria's capital, Lagos, earlier this year to try to stem the flow.
While there are no immediate plans for Canadian officials to do the same in regard to any of the countries with TPS, the government is sending representatives to communities around the U.S. with large groups of TPS holders. The visits come with a warning: If you decide to take the risk, there is a high probability that your asylum claims will be rejected.
For example, of the 830 Haitian asylum applications that have been processed by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, only 11.8 percent or 98 applications have been accepted while the rest have been rejected, according to the agency's website. Those who were rejected are in the process of being deported.
“Ninety-two percent of Haitians who crossed last year,” Boissonnault said, “will not be able to stay in Canada long-term.”
He acknowledged that migrants or would-be migrants misinterpreted Canada's immigration system as welcoming because the country does allow those who file for asylum to receive work permits once they have passed background checks and are freed from detention.
"Yes, there is Canadian hospitality," Boissonnault said, "but it has an end date if your asylum is rejected."
Randy McGrorty, the executive director of Catholic Legal Services, who met with Boissonnault in Miami, said it's too early to know how the various TPS communities will respond to the U.S. deadline to leave. Most will not lose the benefit until 2019, and it's unclear how many have re-registered in the TPS program, which allows them to get work permits and driver's licenses.
But with temperatures warming and the school year ending, Canadian officials say they want to reach families as they begin contemplating their futures.
“We’re just letting people know that as their time with TPS status runs out, to make decisions with correct information,” Boissonnault said.
And for those thinking of applying for asylum in Canada, Olga Radchenko, director of parliamentary affairs at the Office of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, who traveled with Boissonnault, emphasized the hurdles. "It's not enough just to say there is poverty, there is a failure of social services in my country. There is violence. You have to demonstrate that somehow you would face personalized risk."
Boissonnault and Radchenko said the Canadian government has invested in being better prepared — increasing personnel at the border and adjusting its outreach strategies with YouTube videos and targeted internet ads.
"When people go into Google and type in 'How do I cross the border at Roxham Road,' or 'How do I move to Canada,' they get a pop-up ad from the government saying, 'If you're looking for information on how to move to Canada, go to our website,'" said Radchenko. "So we're targeting people who are actually looking for this information."
The bottom line: immigrants who cross illegally into Canada will be arrested by the Royal Canadian police and detained.
"People have been misinformed [believing that] by crossing the border you’re going to be taken care of, when in fact there is a very rigid process in place," Boissonaul said. “We have a legal, strict immigration process that continues while we’re looking at asylum claims and want people to understand. Don’t misunderstand Canadian hospitality for permanent residency in Canada."